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If you’ve ever wondered what the great Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker would sound like if he were a panhandling bear-troubadour with a serious sweet tooth and a penchant for getting in trouble with other bears, well … look no further than “Ernest & Celestine.”

Whitaker does a splendid, warmly funny job of voicing vagabond bear Ernest in the English-language version of this wry, animated feature.

His co-star, “The Twilight Saga’s” Mackenzie Foy, is equally effective as Ernest’s unlikely friend, the brave mouse Celestine.

A French-Belgian coproduction recently nominated for an Oscar (it lost to “Frozen”), “Ernest & Celestine” was originally voiced by French actors and won France’s César Award for Best Animated Feature.

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The vocal cast for the film’s American release includes heavy-hitters Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy, Megan Mullally and Jeffrey Wright.

Based on a series of books by children’s author and illustrator Gabrielle Vincent, “Ernest & Celestine” is (or at least appears to be) a joyous rediscovery of hand-drawn animation, all witty and expressive lines, spare backgrounds and gorgeous, watery hues.

In Vincent’s imagined (and completely kooky) world where bears and rodents keep their distance from one another, the filmmakers get a lot of comic mileage from the frumpy movements of the former and the creepy agility of the latter.

Not at all creepy, however, is Celestine, a sweet youngster forced by cruel guardians to steal loose teeth from bears. Fleeing that fate, Celestine joins forces with Ernest, already on the lam for stealing marshmallows.

There are many memorable images in “Ernest & Celestine,” including the sight of gathering rain clouds and a dozing bear whose protruding stomach is filled with stolen candy. But beneath all that is the film’s winning tone of tolerance and trust.

The leading characters have to work at getting past the bigotry bears and rodents are taught to feel about one another. But once they do, theirs is a beautiful relationship.

Tom Keogh:

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